There is a rather humorous aspect of the story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis. You likely know the basic story which begins with the men of that early time saying, Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves (Gen 11:4). It was an image of pride, of grandiosity. The humor comes, that when the tower is built, the great tower, with its top reaching to the heavens, the truth is, it is actually so puny that God has to come down from heaven to see it. The text says, And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built (Gen 11:5).
Now, of course, as omniscient, God clearly sees everything, and the humor in the text is not some primitive notion of God. Rather the humor is for our benefit. For in effect it says that our greatest, tallest, most prominent and glorious work that we saw as reaching heaven itself, is in fact so puny that God has to stoop to “see” it. He has to descend to get a glimpse of it. What ultimately DOES alarm God is how colossal our pride is, and he has to humble us, by confusing our language and scattering us about the planet.
I recalled this story as I flew to the Midwest today and observed that even the taller buildings of some bigger cities were hard to see from 30,000 feet. I also thought of the video below which I saw recently. It is wonderful footage of earth, taken from the Space Shuttle. There is verbal commentary and explanation by one of the astronauts, explaining some of the features we are seeing, and where on the globe we are looking as the pictures pass by. The view is remarkable. But what is more remarkable is what we do NOT see: us!
It is an astonishing thing that, even though the shuttle is passing over well populated areas, there is no visual evidence that we even exist. No cities or buildings are visible, no planes streaking through the skies, even large scale agricultural features seem lacking. There is only one mention of a color difference across the Great Salt Lake, due to a railroad bridge preventing lake circulation. But the bridge is in no way visible, only its effect.
We think of ourselves as so big, so impressive. And yet even in low earth orbit, we cannot be seen. It is true, at night, our cities light the view, but during the day – next to nothing says we are here. Even the magnified picture on my 30″ iMac screen shows no evidence of us below.
And having viewed the video I think of Psalm 8:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens….When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Yet, You made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Yes, we are so powerful (by God’s gift), and yet so tiny as to be nearly invisible from a short distance into space. Our mighty buildings rise. But they rise on a speck of space dust called earth, revolving around a fiery point of light, called the sun. Yet our huge sun is but one point of light in the Milky Way Galaxy of over 100 Billion Stars. And the Milky Way Galaxy, so huge to us as to be incomprehensible, is but one Galaxy of an estimated 200 Billion Galaxies.
What is man O Lord that you are mindful of him? Jesus says of us: And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Matt 10:30). Yes, God who knows the numbers of the stars and calls them by name also knows the number of the hairs on each of our heads. Nothing escapes him.
And old preacher’s saying goes: “We serve a God who sits high, yet looks low!” Indeed, never forget how tiny you and I are, yet never cease to marvel that God knit you together in your mother’s womb and sustains every fiber of your being. We cannot even be seen from low earth orbit, but God who sees all, looks into our very heart. Do not cease to marvel that, though tiny, you and I are wonderfully, fearfully made (Psalm 139), and that He has put all things under our feet.